Long ago and far away in Modesto, Calif., two young musical theater fans shared a vision: "Star Wars" with tap-dancing Storm Troopers! Ewoks with chirpy voices raised in song!
The two fans, MIT Theater Guild (MTG) members Rogue Shindler and Jeff Suess, wrote and wrote, grafting snappy Star Wars lyrics onto tunes from such Broadway hits as "Cats," "West Side Story," "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera."
The delirious result is "Star Wars Trilogy: Musical Edition," the MTG production opening Friday, Nov. 11, with shows Nov. 11-13 and 16-20 in La Sala de Puerto Rico, MIT Student Center.
The production, known as "SWT: ME," retells "Star Wars: A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi" in a three-act parody of science fiction, musical theater and George Lucas' famous Jedi saga.
More than 60 MIT undergraduates, graduate students and alumni are actors, musicians or production crew for "SWT: ME." The show is directed by Shindler and produced by Jacqueline Kirtley (S.B. 1996).
Matthew Ciborowski, a sophomore in urban studies and planning, plays Luke Skywalker, young hero of the trilogy.
Ciborowski, who wields a working light saber, is most enthusiastic about the choreographed fight scenes. "They rock!" he said. A veteran performer of three dozen musicals over the past 10 years, he described "SWT: ME" as "the funniest show I have ever been in."
Ciborowski first saw the Lucas films last summer. By contrast, Nikki Akraboff, a junior in mechanical engineering who plays Lando Calrissian, said her "staple television diet was Star Wars and operas. I was preparing for a musical Star Wars since I was 3 years old."
As Calrissian, Akraboff does "some fighting -- sadly, no light saber -- and my biggest solo bits are rapping in a chorus number," she said.
Akraboff described "SWT: ME" as "a lot of fun for musical theater buffs to pick out all the tunes and references. The same is true for Star Wars buffs, with all the details we added. But above all, I cannot express how funny it is," she said.
Eleanor Pritchard, senior in biology and a "huge Star Wars fan," serves as costume designer, creating 190 costumes for the 33-member cast. She also plays the twittery droid, C3PO.
"SWT: ME" was a challenge due to the "sheer volume and range of the costumes," but research paid off, she said, in locating items such as taxidermy glass eyes for the Ewok puppets and inflatable sumo suits to achieve the chubby look needed for the Gammorrean Guards.
As C3PO, Pritchard wears a molded plastic vacuum form, painted gold. The droid mask is "modified so I can get those high notes out and be understood," she said.
Pritchard's costume and character have already received one rave review -- from Anthony Daniels, who played C3PO in the Lucas films. Daniels and Lucas attended a gala to open the Boston Museum of Science's Star Wars exhibit at which the "SWT: ME" cast performed.
Daniels "shook my hand and told me it was a 'masterful performance.' It was a tremendous honor," said Pritchard.
Shindler and Suess describe computer science doctoral student Stephen Peters (S.B., S.M. 1992) as "SWT: ME"'s "musical orchestration guru."
"Composing this work has been a real delight," said Peters, who said he was most inspired by "The Empire Strikes Back."
For reservations, visit web.mit.edu/mtg.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 9, 2005 (download PDF).